ET caught up with Zak Nilsson somewhere in Cyberspace where this interview was conducted over
a period of a few weeks. Many of the questions were suggested by readers of the
Harry Nilsson Mailing List.
ET: If this were a Playboy interview (yeah, I buy it for the interviews!), there would
be an introduction where I talk about meeting you under some strange circumstances then I'd give
a little background biographical information about you. So, I'll start there. Who the hell are
you? Oops, Sorry ...
ZN: What the...?! Oh yeah. Well, I'm Zak Nilsson, I'm now 25 and living in
New Hampshire. I'm Harry's oldest son and sibling to 6 other little Nilssons. I like to call
myself a musician in most of my spare time, but I can't really sing - that was Harry's gift.
I work for a graphic design/print/copy shop as the systems manager and prepress specialist and
I enjoy Mexican food more than anybody should enjoy food. I think that's most of it...
ET: Your mother and Harry divorced when you were very young. Did you have much contact with Harry
as you were growing up?
ZN: Not what I would call "a lot", but after my mother and I moved to Santa Cruz, California, when I was 4 or
5, I would fly down to visit him two or three times a year. Sometimes the visits were one week
long, sometimes two weeks. I don't really remember, but my aunt told me that I flew down often
enough for the stewardesses to recognize me on sight and keep me out of trouble until Harry came
to pick me up. But when I did visit, we were always doing things together. Sometimes I would
go to a studio with him while he was working on a project, sometimes we would go to meet friends
of his; I always had a great time and I was always sad when I had to leave. I suppose for not
having all that much contact, we did have a lot of what I would call quality time when we
ET: And you're close to Beau Nilsson and the other Nilsson offspring ...
ZN: I'm closer now than I have been in the past. I never got to see any of the other kids very
often either, so I never got to know them very well. In the last few years, though, I've gotten
to know them a bit better and I'm glad that I have.
ET: Harry credits his mother and an uncle with inspiring him musically. Did Harry inspire
your interest in music or was there someone else close to you that did?
ZN: Yes, he said his uncle taught him everything he knew about breath control. I think Harry
did inspire my interest in music; I've always enjoyed playing piano, I used to play
"Without You" all the time. I used to listen to Harry's albums as I was growing up;
I really liked his music and I always wanted to be able to create music like that. I think
that's what got me started on it.
ET: It seems a little funny that you like your father's music, because children never like
the music that their parents like. But then the music Harry created wasn't necessary the music
he listened to. So maybe it isn't so funny.
ZN: He did enjoy listening to his own music now and then - for example, when I was out there in
Summer 1993, he couldn't wait to play me the tape of Daddy's Got a Brown New Robe;
he was always very proud of what he had accomplished, and I know he liked all the "standards" from
A Little Touch of Schmilsson in the Night especially.
ET: Do you recall when you first realized that your father's job was different than most
ZN: I'm not all that sure; I always knew he sang and wrote songs and had a bunch of records, but
I didn't realize until I was older what a talent he had for songwriting and vocalizing. To answer
your question specifically, I guess I must have been 6 or 7 when I realized not everybody got
to go into the studio all the time.
ET: That brings up an easy question, what's your favorite Harry Nilsson album and song?
ZN: You call that easy? Yeesh... man, I love most of them. I really like
"Without Her" and "Daddy's Song" and "Don't Leave Me". My favorite
album may just be Aerial Pandemonium Ballet, although I really can't choose a favorite.
ET: And what other music artists do you enjoy?
ZN: Some of my favorite other groups/solo artists are Level 42,
The Police/Sting, Thomas Dolby, Peter Gabriel,
Howard Jones, The Fixx, Tears for Fears and Bela Fleck.
Those are just my absolute favorites; I really enjoy a wide range of music.
ET: Okay ... a couple of very serious questions from the peanut gallery. Do you like to wear
bathrobes? Do you own a brown one?
ZN: I like bathrobes, but mine's green. However, I do have a promotional cape from the
Son of Dracula movie...
ET: What do you think of your pictures on the Son of Schmilsson and Duit on Mon Dei
covers? Isn't "Zachary" mentioned on the Aerial Ballet cover? (That would be a little
before your time, though.)
ZN: Well, that's what I looked like back then; It's always fun to show people the cover and
tell them it's me. Zachary was mentioned on the Aerial Ballet cover, but I'm still in
the dark as to whether it had anything to do with me or not.
ET: Your web page shows some photos of your room painted with scenes from The Point!,
can you tell us a little about that?
ZN: Well from what my mother tells me, Harry was so excited when I was born that he rushed home
from the hospital and just started painting the walls of my room with scenes from
The Point!. He covered all the walls and some of the ceiling - it was great!
ET: What gift from your father do you remember or cherish the most?
ZN: I think that would have to be a copy of "Watership Down" he bought for me at an
airport. He drew a little picture of a bunny and wrote me a note on the inside cover; it has a
lot of sentimental value.
ET: Do you think you ever gave Harry an idea for a song or inspired a song of his?
ZN: I honestly don't know. I suppose it's possible but I really have no idea. I did send Harry a
song I'd written on tape once, and he wrote lyrics for it, recorded the vocals on top and sent
it back. That was pretty cool.
ET: Harry had a reputation for having a good sense of humor. Do you have a particular memory of
something funny he did or said?
ZN: Not any one thing in particular really, I remember him as always having something funny
to say. I'd say that reputation was probably well-deserved. I do actually remember one joke he
told me that for some reason stands out in my mind, but I probably shouldn't repeat it here. (off
the record) [Yeah, right - RS] It went like this:
'What's the difference between a saloon and an elephant's fart? One is a bar room, the other's a
Crude I know, but that was a little bit of Harry. he had a bunch of silly jokes like that. I just
didn't really think you'd want to put that one into the newsletter but you're welcome to if you
feel it's appropriate!
ET: Sue Schnelzer wrote this to me a while back, "In 1994, during the baseball strike, I saw a
PBS special about the Brooklyn Dodgers and the events that caused them to move to
Los Angeles, California, in 1958. I always wondered if Harry felt a certain kinship with the team because this
was about the same time that Harry was moving from Brooklyn, New York, to Los Angeles. One of the
songs written by Harry that was mentioned in the L.A. Magazine article was
"Yo Dodger Blue, LA Loves You"." So, was Harry a Dodger fan? Did he ever take you to a
ball game when you visited with him?
ZN: Yeah, I think we went to a Dodgers game in L.A. a looooong time ago. And you nailed it right
on the head, Sue; Harry loved the Brooklyn Dodgers. When he died, I received his prized Brooklyn
ET: What did he like on his hotdog? I would guess he was mustard and onions guy ....
ZN: That one I can't answer for you. I just don't know.
ET: There's a 7-Up can in Harry's refrigerator on the back cover of Nilsson Schmilsson. Did he
have a fondness for the "uncola?"
ZN: No, I don't think Harry was that much of a soda fanatic. [He grins] But, Harry loved numbers
so much ("One") that he originally made my middle name "Seven." Here's the story. When
I was born, the date was 1/17/71 and I weighed 7 lbs, 7 oz, although I don't think it was 7:00.
That's a lot of sevens, Harry thought, and proceeded to give me the middle name of Seven -
only to find out my mother didn't like it so he changed it to Nine, which I guess was acceptable.
I like it. And there you have it, the non-carbonated origin of my middle name.
ET: Well, I can only think of one appropriate question to end this conversation ... what happens
to the boy when the circus comes to town?
ZN: Huh. You'd think by now that I'd have an answer to that one...Maybe for me the circus just
hasn't come to town yet. But when it does, I'll be sure to let you know...
The Coconut Corner
by Sue Schnelzer
In an online chat, Bruce Ansley asked 'What is everyone's most prized Harry rarity?'
Thanks for asking, Bruce! I promised Roger that I'd try to help him fill up his newsletter by
writing an article. And who knows? This may end up being a recurring column. The best thing for
all concerned is that the rest of you could write about your most prized Harry rarity and send it
in c/o the "Coconut Corner" and then I won't have to write another word for several more years!
Send those stories to Roger soon!
Well, to answer Bruce's question, my most prized Harry rarity is the Time Magazine,
February 12, 1973 issue that featured Harry in the cover story. But the reason that it's my most
prized possession is kind of a long story. Actually it's kind of a long, pathetic story, so I'll
try to be as brief as possible...
I guess to say that I was stricken by the news of Harry's death on January 15, 1994 is quite an
understatement. The two-line obituary in my local paper was enough to send me digging through
boxes in my basement looking for my four, long-forgotten albums. Once I listened to the music
again, I was hooked. I felt like there had been this little spark created and I needed to keep
it burning by talking about Harry's music to everyone I knew. I was even more driven in my
search for music and articles. Even two years later, I'm still stunned about the lack of
media coverage about Harry's life. Each article found was a treasure in that it represented one
more piece to the total puzzle about the life behind the voice that had captured my soul.
I spent more time than I'd like to admit during 1994 just checking out newsstands and libraries
searching for any further stories about Harry. I finally found an article from
L.A. Magazine (October, 1990) that provided some interesting information about Harry's life in
the 80's. There was one line in this article that really jumped out at me. It began "Seventeen gold
records and a Time Magazine cover later..." There was a Time Magazine cover story
about Harry! I knew that I just had to find it. My first step was to call Time's Customer Service
Center. It became very evident that this wasn't going to work since I didn't have either the date,
(I didn't even know the year), or a description of the cover. I tried to keep the poor agent
looking through covers from 1972 hoping that she'd just happen to come across it, but eventually,
she managed to convince me that I was looking for a needle in a haystack.
I finally gave up on ever finding the article. A few months later, I happened to be in my local
library and noticed that they had a reference section filled with bound copies of back issues of
Time Magazine. My heart sunk when I discovered that they only went back as far as
1973. (At that point, I was convinced that the story had to be in an issue published in 1972 or
earlier.) Hopeful that they might have older issues somewhere else in the library, I randomly
picked up one of the 1973 binders and headed for the information desk. I started to ask the
librarian about the 1972 issues and while I was talking, I happened to begin paging through the
book. It opened EXACTLY to the cover page from the February 12, 1973 issue. And, of course, I
was looking directly at a sketch of Harry Nilsson. Well, once I picked my jaw up off
the floor, I managed to mumble something to the librarian, like, "never mind...I found what I
needed." From this point it was easy to get my own copy by calling my "friend" in Time's
Customer Service group.
A few of us have talked about the coincidences that we've experienced over the last few years.
I'd like to think that there was a little bit of Harry's magic involved in helping me to find
the magazine. It will always be a very special part of my collection. Although it's my most prized
possession, I have to say that my greatest discovery was, of course, finding Roger's home page,
and as a result finding all of you. It's been really wonderful to trade stories about our
experiences and I hope we can keep this going for many years to come!
So that's my story. I hoped you enjoyed it. And as Harry says in The Point! ...
so, thank you...and GOODNIGHT! (sound of cheering in background...)
Time's Customer Service number is 800-843-TIME (prompt #2) They still have copies of the
February 12, 1973 issue available for $30 plus P&H. Tell them Sue sent you.
If you feel you can help Sue continue The Coconut Corner, please write to me (Roger) or
send e-mail to Sue at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Michael Nesmith, who recorded his own version of Harry's "Rainmaker", recently
revealed that he played guitar on Harry's version of the song.
Top Ten Signs You're a Harryhead
by Bruce Ansley
|10.||You think Ringo Starr is "diggety dank" and Mariah Carey is "schwag".|
|9.||You repeat key words in conversations and add "Schm-" to the front (e.g., "Deadlines Schmedlines", "Layoff Schmayoff", "Schwag Schmag").|
|8.||You discover a latent appreciation for the works of Laurel and Hardy, Buckminster Fuller, The Monkees, and Yoko Ono.|
|7.||You know who done it, own a little jade box, and seldom show up for work on Thursday.|
|6.||You put the lime in the coconut.|
|5.||And you drink them both up.|
|4.||You go on a bar-hopping pilgrimage to Harry's old watering holes in L.A. with Curtis Armstrong (Kotex headware optional).|
|3.||Your workday hasn't really begun until you've satisfied the need to download and read the latest NilssonWeb postings.|
|2.||When Zak Nilsson travels across the country, he crashes on your couch.|
|... and the number one sign you're a Harryhead:|
|1.||Tell-tale Brandy Alexander stains on your bathrobe.|